Early Barriers to Career Progression of Women in Surgery and Solutions to Improve Them: A Systematic Scoping Review

Ann Surg. 2022 Aug 1;276(2):246-255. doi: 10.1097/SLA.0000000000005510. Epub 2022 Jul 4.


Objective: This study aims to summarize the evidence concerning the barriers that exist to the career progression of women in surgery and to provide potential solutions to overcome these obstacles.

Background: Visible and invisible impediments can hinder female doctors' pursuit of a surgical career, from choosing a surgical specialty to training opportunities and all the way through career progression.

Methods: Database search of original studies about barriers for female surgeons during choice of surgical career, residency, and career progression. A query including possible solutions such as mentorship and network was included.

Results: Of 4618 total articles; 4497 were excluded as duplicates, having incorrect study focus, or not being original studies; leaving 120 studies meeting the inclusion criteria. Of the articles included, 22 (18%) focused on factors affecting the pursuit of a surgical career, such as surgical work hours and limited time for outside interests, 55 (46%) analyzed the main barriers that exist during surgical residency and fellowship training, such as discrimination and sexual harassment, 27 (23%) focused on barriers to career advancement, heavy workloads, ineffective mentorship, unclear expectations for advancement, inequality in pay or work-home conflicts. Among studies reporting on possible solutions, 8 (6.5%) articles reported on the role of effective mentorship to support career advancement and to provide moral support and 8 (6.5%) on the emerging role of social media for networking. Our analysis showed how different impediments hinder surgical career progression for women, with notable consequences on burnout and attrition.

Conclusions: Identification and recognition of obstacles to career progression is the first step to addressing the gender gap in surgery. Active strategies should be improved to promote a culture of diversity and to create equal opportunity for women in surgery, while implementing structured mentoring programs and investing on an adequate communication on social media to engage the future generations.

Publication types

  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Career Choice
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Internship and Residency*
  • Mentors
  • Specialties, Surgical*
  • Surgeons*